Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook from my former colleague Mark Bullock who shared a photo of some ball cans from a shop in Nottingham that were displaying the ITF Tennis Play and Stay logo.

It almost brought a tear to my eyes when I remember all the work that went into developing the ITF Tennis Play and Stay campaign which lead to the creation of the Tennis 10s programme and the rule change for 10 and under competition in 2010. Also developed in this time though the campaign was the adult programme Tennis Xpress and a number of rule changes about competition formats including the introduction into the rules of tennis timed matches.

Some people gave me credit and said that the ITF Play and Stay campaign was my programme. But I can assure you that it wasn’t Dave Miley’s campaign. I led the campaign, but this was a truly team effort and was developed over a six year period by a group of top experts in participation, from some of the ITF’s top nations, including the 4 Grand Slam nations. The ITF Intro to Tennis Task Force was truly committed to the challenges that tennis was facing, but the involvement in this project’s development did not stop there.

Tennis is often seen as fragmented and people involved in the industry do not often cooperate for the good of tennis. I am proud of the fact that I brought together so many important groups and actively involved them. The ATP and WTA supported the campaign by getting the top players to make videos in support, free of charge. Other organisations like the PTR and the USPTA were brought in as observers to the task force. The Tennis industry association and the ball and racket companies were invited to meetings and they agreed to support by putting the logos and key messages on ball cans and rackets. Everyone was involved in the approval of the logos, the slogan “Serve Rally and Score” (thank you Sandi Proctor!) and the 5 key messages:
· Tennis is Easy if you use the right ball
· Tennis is fun if you serve rally and score in the first lesson
· Tennis play and competition can be fun if you use the right formats and scoring
· Tennis is healthy
· Tennis is a sport for all and every player should have a rating

We got the help of former LTA Director of marketing, Sara Acworth as a consultant who found a company to put together, at very low cost, the branding and the logos and got the help of people like Mike Barrell and Mark Tennant to write the supporting material. Everything was put into six languages, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. Eventually the campaign material was available in over 20 languages including Polish as you will see in the photo attached. We brainstormed on names and finally came up with simple ones that did not need translation. Tennis 10s and Tennis Xpress was the same in all languages. We developed this truly global campaign for less than $200,000 and made everything available to the tennis world for free. Even commercial club groups like Midtown, owned by the great Alan Schwartz, and Sportime, home of the John McEnroe Academy used Play and Stay programmes to increase the profit of their tennis business by millions.

People working with me at the time know that it was not easy to change the way tennis was introduced. Many in the industry did not want to change the rules for 10 and under. At the height of the criticism against our efforts to change the rules of tennis, I had to write to the New York Times to do a rebuttal of an article quoting Wayne Bryan who was actively against the changes. They printed my letter in full. Even within my department there were people like my good friend Miguel Crespo who thought the three slower balls and the tennis 10s would never work and said so publicly at the launch in 2007. But eventually the critics saw the benefits and the campaign got traction and now every kid 10 and under is using the slower balls in training and officially sanctioned competition.

After I left the ITF, I was surprised that the new President decided to disband the ITF Tennis Play and Stay Campaign. After all the investment of time and energy, having for the first time brought all of tennis together to promote one campaign, I was shocked that he and my successor Luca Santilli decided to throw all of that away.
I heard ITF staff say last year that it was stopped because it was not working. They should tell that to countries like Australia that has seen huge growth in number or even small tennis nations like Norway who have used Play and Stay to grow tennis by over 5% per year over the past 10 years and who continue to promote the Tennis 10s and Tennis Xpress programmes and the slower balls. In Latin America countries like Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia continue to have incredible results using Play and Stay initiatives.

Everyone out there, including the ITF’s own development officers, knows that the programme worked and the countries that have embraced it are not in a hurry to stop using it! So why did the ITF under Dave Haggerty stop the campaign? Is it simply because it was not his idea?

Growing the game should be a mission for the ITF and until recently it truly was. It did make me smile when the ITF called last year’s conference in London the “inaugural” Worldwide participation conference even though the first Worldwide participation Conference took place in Bath in 2000 with 300 participants from over 80 nations. Is this, as Donald trump would say, Fake News??

The 2nd/3rd ITF Worldwide participation conference is due to take place in London in July and I see that there is no place on the programme for Norway or for any country using the Play and Stay campaign successfully. I asked to be considered as a speaker and to make a presentation at the next conference in July, on behalf of the Asian Tennis Federation whom I work with and Tennis Ireland who have nominated me for ITF President. My proposed topic was “driving tennis through user friendly play and competition” but I was disappointed to learn last week that my offer to present this topic with examples of formats that have proven successful, was rejected by the ITF.

At the conference last year, my former colleague Luca Santilli and ITF General manager, Kelly Fairweather showcased lots of research and statistics and that showed something that we already knew, back in 2000, when the Intro to Tennis Task Force first started their work. It showed that tennis participation in the more developed markets like the USA and Europe is dropping fast and that action is needed. How much money did they pay to find that out? It’s interesting that Tennis Canada is bucking the trend by increasing participation a lot. In my opinion it is because they use the programmes that form part of the Play and Stay campaign in their participation programmes? See Canada………the perfect tennis storm 

I think the ITF has taken its eye off this important area of participation which is so important for the future of our sport. Other than gathering statistics and holding a two day day conference in London last year, what has the ITF done to help increase tennis participation? In my opinion a lot of cosmetic actions, but little of a tangible nature.

If I am elected President in September, I am committing to relaunching and continuing to evolve the Play and Stay Campaign and use the material that is already available in six languages as a resource for the ITF Federations to use to help increase participation. I will make sure that the ITF actively promote user friendly play and competition at the recreational level and especially promote the use of the 25% green ball. Tennis should be driven by user play. Not by coaching. We will also look to develop new programmes and initiatives to promote the sport better and make sure we again have the support of the Tours and the slams.

Remember, the best part of tennis is hitting is over, hitting it back and playing the point. Quite simple really. SERVE RALLY AND SCORE!